Wishing Yankees icon Jeter a happy 40th birthday
This is 40, Derek Jeter. How does it feel?
"It's like turning any other number," you said Wednesday, on the eve of the big Four-Oh. "I don't really pay much attention to numbers, so it's no different to me."
Just the sort of vanilla response we've come to expect from Derek Jeter.
But something tells us you'll celebrate in style, because we've also come to expect you to rise to any occasion.
The Yankees are off on your big day, a happy coincidence and cause for a bash fit for a Captain.
"I'm pretty sure some family and friends will do something," you said, "like they do for every one of my birthdays and their birthdays."
Soon, those family and friends will have you around more often. Your calendar will give way to an open-ended slate of off-days. You'll get away from the daily privilege of putting on the pinstripes, the daily rituals of BP and ground balls and hearing the voice of God introduce "Numbuh 2," the daily scrutiny that comes with a career on the big stage of the Bronx.
You'll always be Derek Jeter, baseball icon. But soon you'll have more quiet moments to be Derek Jeter, human being. You've hinted at starting a family, summering in Europe, enjoying the fruits of your lifetime labor of love.
You've earned it, buddy.
In the meantime, though, pardon us if we take this occasion to reflect -- again -- on all you've done in and around the game. Because for many of us, it's hard to believe the face of baseball is 40, his career soon coming to a close.
"You don't see people play until they're 40," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said when the topic of your birthday was broached. "If they are, it's usually in a different league. It's pretty remarkable, the career he's had and what he's been able to do. I tip my cap to him."
There's been a lot of that lately, hasn't there, Derek? The tips of the cap and the salutes to your status?
Midway through the 2014 season, you've already been feted with numerous gifts and video tributes on various road stops. You've been discussed in sometimes embarrassingly reverent tones by certain scribes and TV types. One particularly hilarious opponent broadcast provided a "scouting report" that, in lieu of actual in-game discussion, lauded you as the "consummate pro and leader" and an "example to players at all levels" (true, but not exactly tactical).
You're probably uncomfortable with all this, because you never asked to be treated like baseball royalty and certainly not like a baseball deity. In fact, you've spent your entire career making an honest effort to not draw attention to yourself for anything other than your play.
Little wonder, then, that you find the fuss over your 40th to be amusing.
"I'm sorry if you guys want it to be different for me," you told reporters. "It's really not. It's like any other birthday."
Age, though, has its effects in the game you play. There's no denying that. The bat slows, the legs ache, the day-to-day recovery is a little more difficult. You've been the first to admit that 2014, after all that time missed last season, has been an adjustment, and the .267 average and .649 OPS provide ample evidence. Girardi has been careful to rest you when it makes sense ("You don't see us run him out there 14 days in a row," he said), and this, too, has been an adjustment for you.
"My mindset is to treat it no differently than any other age," you said. "That's just how I cope with it. If you sit around and start talking about how you're getting older, then I think mentally you cause yourself some problems. For me, I don't think about it. ... I played 159 games two years ago. My job is to be ready to play every day."
The earnestness with which you approach your job is, ultimately, what has drawn people to you, Derek. "The Flip," "The Dive," the rings and the many milestones are all born out of that genuine love and respect for the sport.
Here on your 40th, we thank you and applaud you for that.
So take this brief birthday break, and then get back to it. The Red Sox are coming to town, there are 85 games remaining in this Yankees season, and we know you've got your eye on a second-half hot streak and one last October.
On behalf of all baseball fans, here's to good health and a satisfying goodbye. Here's to the first 40, the next 40, and whatever amazing moments life still has in store for you.
This is 40. Wear it as well as you wear those pinstripes.